41 pages 1 hour read

Elizabeth Acevedo

Family Lore

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


Family Lore (2023) is a multi-perspective magical realism novel by National Book Award-winning author Elizabeth Acevedo. It details a Dominican American family—the Martes—attending the elder Flor’s living wake, while contemplating their respective gifts and histories. It has been shortlisted for the Center for Fiction 2023 First Novel Prize and was picked for the Good Morning America book club. Acevedo boasts seven publications, one of which—her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X—won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. In 2022, she was named the year’s Young People’s Poet Laureate and also won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. As a staunch supporter of portraying Latine culture, she was also honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award. In her works, Acevedo explores the complexity of family, the impact of diaspora, and ways to show love.

This guide refers to the HarperCollins e-book edition published in 2023.

Content Warning: Family Lore and this guide include references to infertility, miscarriage, gang-related violence, postpartum depression, verbal abuse, alcohol addiction, and attempted sexual assault.

Plot Summary

Family Lore primarily takes place in New York but often references the Marte family’s life in Santo Domingo (in the Dominican Republic). Ever since she was born, Flor Marte has had the gift of foresight and can predict exactly how and when people will die. When Flor suddenly decides to hold a living wake for herself after watching a documentary recommended by her daughter Anacaona (“Ona”), Flor’s family wonders if her death is imminent.

For weeks, Flor plans her elaborate affair, but as she concentrates on the details of the event in the final three days leading up to the wake, the other women of the Marte family struggle with their personal issues and are reminded of painful memories they’ve never confronted.

For decades, Flor’s older sister Matilde, who does not have an innate magical ability, has been married to the unfaithful Rafa. For the first time, however, one of Rafa’s mistresses is pregnant, promising him a child that Matilde was unable to conceive. Distraught, Matilde tries to ignore her broken marriage by helping her niece Yadi with her shop and attending a dancing class. In class, Matilde meets and experiences conflicted feelings for her teacher’s son, baseball player Kelvyn.

Meanwhile, Flor’s younger sister Pastora tries to be helpful by meddling with her older sisters’ lives. When she spots Rafa’s pregnant mistress, Pastora confronts her. However, when Pastora later learns the woman had an accident that may have endangered her baby, she is shaken. It turns out that both the woman and baby are fine. When Pastora sees the woman again, she uses her gift of truth-hearing (lie detection) and recognizes the woman’s claim that Rafa intends to leave Matilde as a lie. Pastora also implies that the woman is lying about Rafa being the father of her unborn baby.

Flor’s youngest sister Camila struggles with what she perceives as her sisters’ distance from her. Camila also feels the need to prove herself and considers her magical gift, brewing potions and tonics, less powerful than Flor’s and Pastora’s gifts.

While the elder generation of Marte women contends with their unresolved issues, their children are struggling with their own problems. Pastora’s daughter Yadira “Yadi” Marte de Polanco navigates the return of her childhood love, Anthony “Ant” Morales, from an 18-year incarceration. Flor’s daughter, Ona, grapples with her difficulty to conceive as well as the possibility of her mother’s approaching death. Ona also lacks direction for her anthropological research but ultimately finds inspiration in her own family’s history and decides to undertake a project on the women of her family, their powers, and their histories.

As Flor’s life is celebrated at her wake, the other characters finally commit to their respective dreams: Matilde evicts Rafa and plans to teach dancing, Pastora leaves her sisters to their own devices and concentrates on helping her daughter, Camila better connects to her family, Yadi plans to reconnect with herself by returning to the Dominican Republic, and Ona conceives her first child. Flor returns home alone, prepares Ona’s inheritance, and peacefully dies.

Related Titles

By Elizabeth Acevedo